All my life I have heard stories of people suddenly discovering hidden talents they had not been aware of. For example, a person discovers late in life that she has a special talent for gardening. Another person, after retiring, discovers that he has an ability to work with computers; and, as a result, friends come to him to solve their computer problems. I will admit that I envy such a person, because machines and I are not on friendly terms. I am much more at home in the world of nature than in the world of technology.
But to me those stories and others like them are convincing evidence of life’s infinite mysteries, reminding us that we don’t quite have everything figured out yet. About three years ago I discovered that I might have a hidden talent, but I am completely at a loss to understand it, let alone explain it. I hope someone can help me.
One of my earliest delights as a young boy was learning to whistle. Now I am the first to admit that I am not that good at it. Terry Klaus is the best I have ever heard, and I dare not whistle when I am in his presence. I can do a fair job of whistling the climax to “The Grand March to Aida,” but Terry does it perfectly.
Throughout my youth my favorite outlet for whistling was to imitate the song of the cardinal—the bird, not the baseball team or the Catholic spiritual leader. Since I spent so much time outdoors either fishing or tramping through the woods, I started whistling at cardinals whenever I would hear them. I could actually carry on a “conversation” with a cardinal for as long as 20 minutes.
Three years ago I had a remarkable experience that has left me baffled and wondering if I might have some special power. I was grilling hamburgers on our front porch at Maple Lawn when I heard a cardinal singing off in the distance. Since I could see no human neighbors present, I answered the bird. We sang to each other for about 10 minutes when suddenly a female cardinal (females are a dull brown and rarely seen) flew up and alighted on a small tree in our yard. She looked around trying to find the male cardinal whose song had drawn her to this area.
Then, Saints preserve us, the male cardinal who had been courting her flew up to check on us, obviously agitated and ready to fight. When they discovered that I was an impostor, a fraud, they both flew off. I’d like to think that the male “flipped me the bird” in triumph.
That experience is so intriguing because in all of my years of conversing with cardinals no female has ever responded to my song. But apparently there was something captivating in my whistling that drew her away from an authentic suitor to investigate me. What was in my song? Did I make promises that won her heart? Do I have some untapped power? Am I the poor man’s Saint Francis of Assisi or a distant cousin of The Birdman of Alcatraz? Poe’s Raven reincarnated? Keats’ Nightingale? What would Oprah or Dr. Phil say?
Those questions have haunted me to this day. Sometimes I awake in the middle of the night and wonder. Sometimes when I am teaching a class I have an urge to whistle the cardinal song just to see if any female students respond. Fortunately, I have never given in to that urge.
I guess I probably do have some hidden talent, but I am afraid that it will always be hidden and remain one of those unsolved mysteries we often read about.